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Veterinarian Technician February 2005 (Vol 26, No 2)

On the Cover: A Talk with AVDT President Jeanne Vitoux, CVT

    With the inaugural meeting the of the National Conference of Veterinary Technician Specialty Academies (NCVTSA) scheduled for March 19 and 20 at AAHA Baltimore, the Academy of Veterinary Dental Technicians (AVDT) is one of three veterinary technician specialty groups currently in the professional spotlight. Jeanne Vitoux, CVT, is a major player in the field of veterinary dentistry. As the president of AVDT, she has been integral in promoting the importance of dentistry throughout the profession, and she will be lecturing at the upcoming NCVTSA meeting.

    What made you decide to choose dentistry as your specialty?

    When I started working in private practice 15 years ago, the first question I was asked was whether I could do teeth cleanings. And I have been asked that same question at every job I've ever had in this field.

    So dentistry chose you more or less.

    I guess so. That first job was at Highland Animal Hospital, a three-doctor practice in northwest Indiana, where I was in charge of performing five to 10 dental cleanings 3 days a week. When I started at Northgate Pet Clinic in Decatur, Illinois, in 1995, I shared the dental load with a fellow technician.

    My experience and skills have grown over the years to involve anesthesia, client education, dental charting, radiography, endodontics, and orthodontics.

    What is it about dentistry that interests you?

    The benefit the patient gets with a dental cleaning and polishing is immediate. I always want to find ways to do my job better so that I can give my patients and clients better care.

    Dentistry is a field where technicians can play an important role. It really is a team effort. Technicians can do the initial oral exam and point out any abnormal findings to the veterinarian. After the patient is anesthetized, technicians can then gather the information the veterinarian needs to make a diagnosis. Technicians can discuss the treatment options and procedures with the client and handle any follow-up care that might arise.

    What type of dentistry training did you pursue?

    Northgate allowed me to take all the CE courses and wet labs I needed. I also read up on and watched procedures that I had not experienced. I try to learn the purpose of each step, which I hope makes me a better dental assistant. It also enables me to better relay information to the client about what is involved with the procedure that his or her pet is going to undergo.

    When did you first start teaching?

    Administrators in the Parkland College and Joliet Junior College Veterinary Technology programs asked me to speak to their students about veteri­nary dentistry. I had already been super­vising veterinary technician students through their internships at Northgate, but when I was asked to share my knowledge on dentistry in the classroom setting, I was humbled and nervous. I quickly became hooked, though, and teaching others has become my way of giving back to the profession. I love working one on one with students and watching them grow as they learn new skills.

    And how did you wind up at the University of Illinois?

    I took a part-time job as a laboratory teaching assistant at Parkland. The instructor I was working with, Dennis Polzin, CVT, gave my name to Dr. Sandra Manfra-Marretta at the university, who was looking to replace her dental technician, who was retiring after 30 years of service. I was interviewed and offered the position. I had never envisioned myself in a university setting, but I knew that working with a well-known veterinary dentist could only give me more interesting and useful skills, so I took the offer.

    It sounds like your plate is pretty full.

    It is definitely a full-time job. I usually begin the day preparing the dental operatory for incoming patients by getting the dental units up and running and setting out the instruments and charts. We receive patients in the morning, perform our procedures the same day, and release in the afternoon. I supervise the veterinary students as they perform physicals, draw blood, schedule consults with other departments, and gather the paperwork to get the animal ready for transfer to anesthesia.

    When patients arrive, the students are supervised and trained while working on them. They are taught how to conduct a thorough oral exam, chart findings, polish and scale teeth, and come up with postoperative treatment recommendations. They are then re­sponsible for preparing the patient for release and giving the owner home care instructions. I enter charges for each case, file any radiographs that were taken, and write a brief report on each case. At the end of the day, I clean the dental area, clean and pack instruments for sterilization, and perform maintenance on the dental units.

    How does this position differ from clinic jobs you've had?

    At the university, I work with a lot of specialists who are not cross-trained, whereas in private practice all the veterinarians can pretty much do all the procedures. There is a set protocol for entering information into medical records, ordering supplies, and ordering tests. It took me a year to finally get it all figured out. Since I am the only technician on the dental service, I work alone and the burden of the service running smoothly falls on my shoulders.

    What do you like about working with students?

    I have great dental residents who are excited about the work they're doing, and that means a lot to me. We are one of only six veterinary schools that have a full-time dental teaching program and service. Our students gain hands-on experience that they can carry with them out into practice and use right away.

    What is challenging about your job?

    I think the most challenging aspect is keeping up with the equipment. Be­cause most of the students are using the equipment for the first time, breakdowns are fairly common. But the skills I have gained from maintaining the equipment, teaching, using my nurs­ing skills, and running the dental service office have been such a bonus.

    Of course, I have my moments when I must look like my hair is on fire. Just when I think I am totally set up and ready to teach a lab, it seems there is always something missing. Students must think it's a riot watching me scurry around for missing objects for the lab.

    What's the best thing about your job?

    I love watching the triumph on students' faces when they extract their first tooth or after they have left our rotation and bring us cases because they spotted a dental problem. That tells us that the information is getting through. I also love talking to clients and helping them make decisions regarding treatment or helping a referring veterinarian expand his or her dental practice.

    And you still have those special patients and clients who make it all worth it.

    Definitely. I had a client whose pet recently passed away. Her dog had severe periodontal disease that necessitated extracting most of his teeth. I had been giving the client feeding advice as she and I were trying to figure out what her dog would eat. After all the cans of dog food and baby food this owner bought, thinking that her pet could only manage a soft diet, we found that he wanted to go back to his dry food — and would chew it without teeth — because that was the food he was used to.

    What was so special to me about this case was the fact that the client called me after her pet had died to tell me that the advice I gave and the struggles we went through paid off. Her dog ate. She then told me she was getting two new puppies of the same breed and wanted advice on how she could help prevent dental disease in her new dogs. The lesson learned is to give the gift of your time and your knowledge to your clients — they really do appreciate it.

    Is there anything exciting on the horizon for your field of interest?

    This year I am helping Dr. Jan Bellows teach the online dental course for the St. Petersburg Community College bachelor's degree program. Pfizer Animal Health and AFP Imaging have kindly donated a digital setup for our dental radiography unit. In exchange for this donation, I will be teaching dental radiology wet labs for clinics that have purchased dental radiography units through their joint program. I am also lecturing at the inaugural NCVTSA meeting this March.

    The specialty academies are really taking off. How did you first get involved with AVDT?

    At the 1998 Annual Veterinary Dental Forum, a group of veterinarians asked if there were any technicians interested in forming a specialty group in dentistry. We met the following year at the Western States Conference and started the ball rolling. We were ap­proved by the Committee for Veterinary Technician Specialties in October 2002 and started accepting applications in December 2003. All of the applicants were assigned to members of our charter committee for mentoring. The AVDT is anticipating its first graduating class in fall 2006.

    What have you learned from your involvement with AVDT?

    Get all the help you can. Don't be afraid to ask for advice from people who have been there, and use the advice you're given. It takes dedication, time, and a strong sense of commitment over the long haul. Make sure the people you're working with share the same vision.

    Who should think about becoming specialized?

    Any technician who wants to expand his or her skills and grow should consider it.

    Do you have to work in a specialty practice or university to become specialized?

    Not at all. Any technician who is doing a lot of dentistry either in a specialty clinic with a veterinary dentist or in a clinic that wants to expand its scope of practice can get involved. Any procedures needed for credentialing that aren't being performed in your practice can usually be found in other practices.

    Besides AVDT, what other changes have you seen in the area of dentistry?

    More pharmaceutical companies are getting involved in educating private practitioners in the area of dentistry by supporting CE opportunities. There is a general trend in the field that dentistry needs to be regarded at a higher level. The damage that can result from un­treated dental problems needs to be taken more seriously in the private practice setting, and I think that is starting to happen.

    What has been the highlight of your career?

    Serving as AVDT president has been a great honor. While putting this group together, I have worked with some of the best and brightest technicians in the field. I love watching the vision become a reality when you believe in something.

    What professional advice do you have for other technicians?

    I learned a while ago that all opportunities should be seriously considered — and without those fear-based thoughts that hold you back. Don't be afraid to try something that interests you. You'll only gain wisdom and experience — even if you don't reach your goal.

    NEXT: Toxicology Brief: Grape and Raisin Toxicity in Dogs